Understanding What Slope Means

USGA Handicap Department
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Far Hills, NJ 07931
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Slope on the Plus Side of Scratch

Slope is the measure of how much harder or easier a course plays for a higher-Handicap player relative to how it plays for a lower-Handicap player, even when the higher-Handicap player is Scratch. The term Slope actually comes from the mathematical slope of a line (rise over run) when graphing scores against Handicap Index.

It is important to understand that the USGA Handicap Formula is the same for all players.

Note: When a golfer returns a score of less than the USGA Course Rating on a high-Slope course, the Slope adjustment moves the negative Handicap Differential (HD) closer to zero. For example:

HD = [68 72.0] x 113 / 140 = -3.2
HD = [68 72.0] x 113 / 110 = -4.1

To some, it is instinctive that the Handicap Differential should be an even lower value (farther from zero) because it was scored on a high-Slope course. A high-Slope course presents the challenges (and opportunities) for outstanding players to distance themselves from a Scratch performance and, conversely, a low-Slope course does not present the same challenges (or opportunities).

What is the difference between a high and low Slope Rating course?

If one could picture a higher Slope Rating course, it would present many more obstacles to navigate (trees, water, rough, etc.) than a low Slope course. On such a course, it is easier for the scratch golfer to separate from the rest of the field. This golfer overcomes yardage and obstacles more easily than the bogey golfer does. The bogey golfers scores rise faster on a high Slope Rating course than the scores of a scratch or plus-Handicap golfer.

Why does the USGA recommend, when applying a percentage of Course Handicap, to bring a plus Handicap closer to zero?

When this occurs, a high Handicap also is brought closer to zero. For example, playing at 100% of Course Handicap, the spread of two players, a +5 and 10 Course Handicap, is 15 strokes. In a competition where 80% of Course Handicap is utilized, the +5 becomes a +4 (+5 x 0.8) and the 10 becomes an 8 (10 x 0.8). The spread between their adjusted Course Handicap is 12, which is 80% of the original spread of 15 using 100%. Relative to a scratch player, both have been adjusted by the same percentage. In this example, a scratch player would receive one less stroke from a plus Handicap and give two fewer strokes to a high Handicap.

“The USGA Handicap System” manual is available to view online via: